Arts and Entertainment

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Psykos

Bladee and Yung Lean step out of their comfort zone in an inconsistent but exciting new direction.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Bladee and frequent collaborator Yung Lean are best known for their spacey yet sincere cloud rap, delivered with unmistakable Swedish accents barely hidden under layers of autotune. In addition to their respective rap hits, both artists have built up lesser-known, genre-bending discographies over the past decade. Bladee began his musical career in middle school as the vocalist of a punk band that would eventually become his rap collective, Drain Gang. Around the same time, Yung Lean became interested in rap music, listening to the American classics as well as local Swedish MCs. The two met in 2012 through Bladee’s younger brother and quickly discovered a shared passion for music. In the 12 years since, they’ve featured on each other’s albums, released singles together, and even toured, but Psykos (2024) is their first full-length album as a duo. 

The album pays homage to each artist’s diverse influences in a succinct eight-track, 22-minute sequence. They forgo the dancey trap production of their recent hits, curating a more raw, analog sensibility, trading synths for electric guitars and electronic drum machines for a drumkit. However, this album isn’t just two rappers trying their hand at imitating rock; it’s an attempt at taking their unique vocals and songwriting that made their past work successful and inserting it in a new context. By abandoning the trap beats that had brought them so much success in the past, they bet that their vocals and songwriting alone were enough to make a successful record. This risk pays off when they manage to get their style across, but they only do so sporadically, leaving this album consistently catchy and soothing but rarely innovative or challenging.

The opener on Psykos, “Coda,” features spoken word by Yung Lean over a slow, vaguely orchestral instrumental. His words sink into the droning violin textures, losing their coherence. Yung Lean’s slow cadence leaves long gaps in between each word without any musical elements to fill them; these pauses split his thoughts into fragments that never come together to form a whole idea. 

Meanwhile, Bladee takes the spotlight in “Ghosts,” delivering melancholic, reverberated choruses that mingle with clean guitar arpeggios and crashing drums. Here, Bladee and Yung Lean’s words can exist as stand-alone phrases without the expectation of overarching coherency that the sparse instrumentation creates in “Coda.” Bladee’s sincere descriptions of hopelessness shine as he sings, “Wanna sink way down all the way through earth / And be one with dirt.” Throughout this album, Bladee and Yung Lean use descriptions of ordinary objects and experiences as dark metaphors to evoke an eerie dread. The instrumentals that they sing over are similarly familiar yet disconcerting, supporting the atmosphere created by Bladee and Yung Lean’s songwriting.

This template, which Bladee and Yung Lean generally follow for the rest of Psykos, succeeds at replicating their beloved writing style but accomplishes little else. The instrumentals become progressively less energetic, bordering on bland. Even the duo’s quirky rhymes eventually become repetitive. This slump reaches its lowest point in “Hanging From The Bridge,” which lacks the edge and distortion of earlier songs on Psykos. Bladee’s breathy vocal harmonies combine with a bubbly, plucked melody in a largely soulless backdrop to Yung Lean’s equally uninteresting crooning. Each element is inoffensive on its own, but none of them complement each other especially well, resulting in a generic three minutes of jangly pop.

This trend ends with “Enemy,” which is surprisingly refreshing in its return to the electronic staples of Bladee and Yung Lean’s discography. Bladee’s autotune-laden vocals intertwine hypnotically with the fuzzy, echoing drums and guitars. Meanwhile, Yung Lean’s emotional and raw vocals cut through layers of noise without overpowering the rest of the track. Both artists return to a more genuine production style, delivering performances that are similar to what they might have recorded for their own solo projects. 

Throughout Psykos, Bladee and Yung Lean seem unsure about how to approach the instrumentals they sing over. At first, their songwriting is similar to their past work, but their vocals lack intent. However, as the album progresses they gain a newfound confidence, which is ultimately hindered by generic and sterile instrumentals. Bladee and Yung Lean achieve the most success when finally embracing the instantly recognizable, intensely distorted approach that has brought them so much success in the past, combining their signature style with newly aggressive instrumentals. After 19 minutes of trial and error, they finally synthesize the instrumentation of grunge and indie rock without confining themselves to its vocal standards. While this project as a whole fails to find its stride, it represents an important new step in Bladee and Yung Lean’s trajectory as artists.